x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

What's in a sporting nickname? Plenty, apparently

As nicknames seem to wither in other sports, tennis, curiously seems be hanging on to the tradition.

Nicknames were once ubiquitous in sports. An athlete without a nickname was usually an athlete without admirers and without success.

Paul Gascoigne was "Gazza" and Eric Cantona was "The King". Eldrick "Tiger" Woods arrived on the golf scene with a nickname.

Baseball's most-revered player had a nickname within a nickname. Babe "The Bambino" Ruth was born George Herman Ruth, though not even he may have answered to "George" by the end of his career.

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As nicknames seem to wither in other sports, tennis, curiously seems be hanging on to the tradition. Many are simple diminutives of longer names. Rafael Nadal is, of course, Rafa. Victoria Azarenka is Vika. Svetlana Kuznetsova is Sveta. Vera Zvonareva is "Bepa", which is what her given name looks like in Cyrillic letters.

A few have silly nicknames. Novak "Djoker" Djokovic and Gael "Sliderman" Monfils certainly fall into that category. As does Thomas "Berdman" Berdych.

Some are more evocative. "Pistol Pete" Sampras and Andy "Rocket Man" Roddick tell us something of their playing styles. Justine "The Belgian Backhand" Henin is the same, as was Steffi "Fraulein Forehand" Graf. Caroline "The Golden Retriever" Wozniacki may not be dignified, but we can almost picture her on the court.

Even a doubles team, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have a nickname for their partnership: Indian Express.

Nicknames and tennis just seem to work.